The power of music

Music touches us in millions of different ways. We hear a song on the radio or television, maybe we even learn the words and sing along with friends, and within a few months, it’s gone. The song is pushed back on the play list, but ten years go by and you hear it again and you’re instantaneously taken back to another time, another place in your life, that’s the power of music.

It can lift us up. It can inspire, it can raise the spirit, it can make us laugh and it can make us cry. It can take us places we’ve never been and it can take us across the street to our best friend’s house or back to the quad of our freshman dorm. It can turn back time and can bring back the dead.

Music is amazing thing. I can think of many examples, but here’s five that come to mind:

U2 – With or without you

audience-1867754_640I walked down to the study lounge tired. I had been studying all evening. I was tempted to skip, but our resident assistant wanted everyone to come to the lounge for a quick meeting. Our meetings were usually a waste of time, but the meeting went relatively quick, someone was leaving the bathroom a mess and it needed to stop, and then we switched on the TV to watch the MTV premier of U2’s first release from their Joshua Tree album. I fell in love with U2 watching them play “Sunday Bloody Sunday” eighteen months before at Live Aid, but I was skeptical.

blogpictureI was thinking about making my getaway back to my room, when Bono’s haunting voice and driving guitar came through the screen. I couldn’t believe it, the video was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard. The song became the group’s most successful single at the time, becoming their first number one hit in the US. I soon went out and bought the Joshua Tree album and it became one of my all-time favorites.

With or without you;
With or without you;

I can’t live;
With or without you;
And you give yourself away;
And you give yourself away;
And you give;
And you give;
And you give yourself away.

Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues
chainlink-690503_640.jpgAs a kid, I hated country music. I hated the twangy sound, but the real reason for my hatred—I hated it because my parents played it. The local radio station seemed to play Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and their country bretheren all the time. I wanted something hipper, something with more of a beat.

A number of years ago, I was running some errands and Cash came on the radio. I started to change the station, but I decided to give him a listen. His music didn’t seem so slow anymore. When I listened to the words, I found feeling that I had never noticed. I’ve never been to prison and have no plans to go, but I feel pretty certain that Cash nailed the experience.

I hear the train a comin’;
It’s rollin’ ’round the bend;
And I ain’t seen the sunshine;
Since, I don’t know when;
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison;
And time keeps draggin’ on.

Eagles – Desperado

flasks-606612_640I hear the opening lick of Desperado and I’m taken back to my bedroom in high school. I have Eagles Live in my cassette player. It’s late, the room is dimly lit, and I’m desperately trying to understand Chemistry. One brother got me hooked on Adam Ant and Boston and my oldest brother got me hooked on the Eagles. In fact, I think I stole the cassette from him. If he finds out, I’ll never hear the end of it, but right now I’m not worried about his wrath. I’m worried that I’m going to flunk out of school.

In my mind I see a rush of events. I’ll get a F on the test, I’ll be pulled out of class and school, I’ll let my family down in shame, my parents will have no option but to disown me. I’ll quit school because I’ll have no way to get back and forth each day. I’ll hit someone for failing to give me a job. I’ll be sent to prison and I’ll never work my way up to a good job and career.

Yes, I know crazy, but I remember the fear of fitting in and making something of myself. I remember it pushing me to work harder to overcome the challenges facing me. And in the background, I remember Don Henley singing of wasted moments.

Don’t you draw the Queen of Diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the Queen of Hearts is always your best bet
Now, it seems to me some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

BB King — The thrill is gone

guitar-1537991_640I stumbled across B.B. King. I signed up for a Columbia House mail order deal. Who remembers 12 cassettes for a penny. Well, of course, I forgot to send the Columbia House monthly mailer back in time and B.B. King came in the mail.

I figured why not try the cassette out. Let’s just say, I never sent it back.

Now it was an odd fit. King was born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. King began his career in juke joints and was known for being a tireless performer, appearing on average in more than 200 concerts a year well into his 70s. I can count the number of concerts I’ve attended on two hands.

But King’s blues touched me. When he spoke of pain, I found myself reliving the pain of a promotion and new job that I missed out on. When he spoke of joy, I found myself feeling his joy and the joy of finishing my first marathon, something I thought I would never be able to accomplish. We came from different sides of the tracks so-to-speak, but we spoke the same language.

The thrill is gone
It’s gone away for good
The thrill is gone baby
It’s gone away for good
Someday I know I’ll be open armed baby
Just like I know a good man should.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord
wooden-cross-3262919_640.jpgI shook my head trying to stay awake. We had three young kids, they were squirming in the pew. I was exhausted from work. I wasn’t getting a ton of sleep. I vaguely remember worrying about some bill or another. The last place on Earth I wanted to be was a church. Yes, it was Good Friday, but I was so tired, I tried to get out of going. I told my wife that I could honor God from home. My wife, in her infinite wisdom, knew exactly what to say. She didn’t fight with me. She didn’t call me names. She simply said, “whatever you’d like, dear.”

Of course, there I was sitting in the pew. I was pouting, but my butt was still in the pew. I was going through the motions until the lector called out the verse of the song that we’d be singing and the choir leader sang the first simple words.

In that instant, I felt completely and utterly foolish. My kids have grown. Lots of things have changed, but I’ve never forgotten how I felt in that moment and how undeserving I felt of God’s love. In that moment, I understand what it meant to have God’s grace.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord;
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross;
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross;
Ooh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross.

A million other songs come to mind. I could spend the rest of the night into the wee hours of the morning thinking back on special songs that hit me at one point or another in my life and the meaning that they bring.

I could go on and on, but in the end, music is what we make it. One song means something to me, but is just filler for you and vice versa. That’s the beauty of life.

2 thoughts on “The power of music

Add yours

  1. Okay, I have to know what song came on the radio that inspired this blog? It’s so very true. Many of the songs you mentioned conjure up some thoughts or memories,including the last. The first holds a special place in my heart for such a different reason, but your blog took me back to it just as hearing the song takes you back to dorm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A series of songs. We were coming back from a trip to visit my daughter and U2 came on, then Eric Clapton singing “You look wonderful tonight” and the finally Bryan Adams. I kept thinking back to each song and the memory that it triggered. Frankly that’s where most of my blogs come from, out of nowhere.


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